Friday, April 12, 2024

ON THE OTHER HAND: Islam among us

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It’s open season on Muslims.
The proposal to build an Islamic centre near the site of the 9/11 attack in New York unleashed a torrent of anti-Muslim hatred:  Newt Gingrich screamed that it was “designed to destroy our civilisation”. A pastor threatened to burn Korans. One sign read Mosques Are Monuments To Terrorism.
How did we get to this point?  
Some say it’s tit-for-tat, and recall the signs carried in 2006 by Muslim demonstrators in London protesting the cartoons caricaturing the Prophet Muhammad: Massacre Those Who Insult Islam and Be Prepared For The Real Holocaust.  
So, there are bigoted idiots on both sides.
Much of the uneasiness non-Muslims feel about Islam stems from 9/11 and subsequent Islamist terrorist massacres: Bali, Madrid, London, Mumbai; massacres that seemed motivated less by specific historical grievances than by resentment against the non-Muslim world.
Besides, there’re aspects of some Islamic societies most Barbadians (including Muslims) find repugnant: stoning to death for offences that in our society would not even be an infraction of the law; the lack of religious liberty; and, worst of all, the denial to women of basic rights we take for granted.
This has led many non-Muslims to see Islam as a hate-driven religion incompatible with the standards of a civilised democratic society.  
But hold on.  
Islam gave rise to an enlightened civilisation that flourished for several centuries and enriched the world.
There’s nothing inherently violent in the Koran. Of course you can cherry-pick your passages, but you can do the same with the Bible. Islam has waged wars of aggression; but so has Christianity.
Just think of the slaughter of Jews and Muslims during the Crusades; or European colonial exploitation and enslavement. Persistent Christian anti-Semitism paved the way for the Nazi Holocaust.
Most Christians denounce these atrocities, as most Muslims denounce Islamist terrorism, 80 per cent of whose victims are Muslims. The problem is not religion but perversions of it.
Islam is no more a monolith than Judaism or Christianity. Various strands of Islam are woven round the “five pillars”: from the mystical Sufi to the hate-preaching Wahhabi sect financed by the Saudi government.
Islam is also a multi-ethnic, trans-regional religion of 1.3 billion people with varied cultural and social practices. Islam, as practised in Afghanistan under the Taliban, is vastly different from Islam in India or Indonesia. Violence against women in some Islamic societies stems not from the Koran but from archaic “honour” codes that require women to be punished for “shaming” the family or community: yet another example of primitive patriarchy.
The three Abrahamic faiths have far more that unites than separates us. We worship the same God; we recognise the inherent dignity of every human being; and God calls us to seek social justice. There’s no “clash of civilisations”; we’re all part of one Judaeo-Christian-Islamic civilisation.
Which brings us to Barbados.  
Muslims in Barbados are a tiny community (less than one per cent of the population). Most of them come from the Indian province of Gujarat and have been settling here since the early 20th century. Some are black Barbadians.
Many are small traders, but they’re found in every walk of life and contribute valuably to the development of Barbados. They practise their religion within our laws. For example: they’re required to bury their dead in coffins rather than simply in shrouds as is the Muslim practice. Gujaratis look to India rather than the Middle East for religious guidance.
In view of the virulent anti-Muslim lies circulated by the international islamophobia industry, it might be helpful for us in Barbados to engage in sustained inter-faith cooperation and dialogue for mutual understanding.
Check out online the Fora TV video featuring two savvy young Muslim women, Irshad Manji and Dalia Mogahed, discussing Islam.  Also watch the film Arranged, a poignant comedy about two young female friends, Muslim and orthodox Jew, whose parents are trying to arrange marriages for them.
• Peter Laurie is a retired diplomat and a commentator on social issues. Email plaurie@caribsurf.com.

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